Friday, September 23, 2011

Artist Album Fiction - Tool's "Undertow"

For awhile, I was picking some of my favorite albums and choosing songs to write about. This was purely for writing exercises to get me out of a non-writing funk and turned out to be quite fun. Not all the pieces were as successful as I would've liked, but I ended up doing a few albums:

Stone Temple Pilots - "Purple"
Miles Davis - "Bitches Brew"
The Clash - "London Calling"
The Mars Volta - "Deloused in the Comatorium"
Smashing Pumpkins - "Siamese Dream"
Portishead - "Dummy"

and finally, this one - Tool's "Undertow." The idea, like writing based on images or photographs I've come across, was to expand upon the lyrics or emotional tone of the song. Obviously part of the problem was interpreting someone else's words or music into something they most likely didn't intend. But here is, what I think, my most successful batch of writing from this little project.

Crawl Away
 “What you try to say is that you don’t wanna play.”

 I can hear her kicking in the trunk. Her bare feet on metal keep a rhythm with the tires on the pavement. Another cigarette gets thrown through my window, left to die out on the side of the country road as we leave the outskirts of the last small city for some 50 miles. It is muggy and heavy outside, but I keep the A/C off anyway. I don’t have to move much to know there is a long stretch of sweat up the middle of my back, sticking me to the seat as we continue on our midnight drive.

* * *
“So what do you do?” she asks, feigning interest.

“Insurance claims. Not as interesting as I’d like,” I reply, sipping my tea. We are the only two in the diner, so the conversation feels obligatory but makes the meal more enjoyable anyway. I am a stranger to her, but I’ve been hunting her for weeks. Her picture is buried inside my wallet.

“What would you rather do?” she asks with a subtle grin. I smile over my mug. She doesn’t want to hear my real answer.

“Globetrotting. Travelling the country and not worrying about work or money. You?”

“I like yours. Let’s do it,” she said, and we left. She seemed like the kind of girl who lived moment to moment and rarely thought things through. The more she talked, the more I drove. Eventually she stopped watching the road until I pulled into a boarded up gas station across the county line. It took me five minutes to get her duct-taped and thrown into the trunk.

* * *

I pulled over at the first secluded spot I could find. I parked the car beneath a large willow tree and sat on the protruded roots to have a smoke. She would tire of banging her limbs on the roof. Her adrenaline would continue to pump through her system, so waiting for her to pass out was absurd. Exhaustion was the goal.

I made sure to cover the car in the unlikely case that someone else drove by before I went walking along the fence line beside the highway. I could hear cattle in the far fields mooing at the oncoming sunset and the cicada buzz above provided a calming soundtrack. After a half hour of waiting on the fence line, I sauntered back to the now silent car.

I rapped on the hood twice. “Here’s the deal. You fight, you die right now and I’ll skin you alive and feed you your heart. You relax, then you get to live for a while longer. Knock twice if you understand me and plan on behaving.”

Two knocks muffled the sound of her sobbing from inside. The sun had disappeared now and it was even darker underneath the overhanging foliage. I could see the stars peppered through the limbs of the thick willow as I dug the keys out of my pocket. Her feet were on the passenger side of the car; rather, they had been. I stood off to the side and opened the trunk quickly as a foot came flying out of the car. Truth be told, I prefer them a little feisty, so I grinned in the dark.

Neither of us moved for several long moments as she realized I wasn’t right there. This cover of darkness had worked to my unplanned advantage as she gingerly brought her head up to look around, getting her night vision straight. I slammed the trunk down on her, hard enough to hurt, but not knock her out. She grunted and fell back, lopsided and raggedy, legs dangling out of the car. “Why are you doing this to me?” she whimpered.

“This is my love for you,” I mumbled as I slid her legs back into the trunk and slammed the lid down with a satisfying thud on her skull. 

 “Twice as clear as Heaven, twice as loud as reason.”

I come to in the dark. It wasn’t the jostling that did it so much as it was the radio cranked to full blast on a country station. I tried mentally mapping out our travel, but got lost after the third or fourth long curve. The trunk would illuminate from the brake lights at the start of these curves, but there was nothing to see. It had been stripped down to the metal and all I could see were bolts and rusted sheeting.

He had taken my watch and my hair pins, thinking they would probably help me out somehow. My skull pounded in the dark and I grimaced with every rough patch of road the tires dined on, perpetually jostling me. I imagined him smiling that creepy smile as he drove, hearing me tumble in the back. It was entirely possible he was doing it on purpose. 

I felt a rivulet of wet crawl down the side of my face and instinctively wiped it away. Immediately, I could smell the copper and knew I was bleeding. It wasn’t much, but it was enough.

I rested my head on the trunk floor and began to sob quietly. I knew I was going to die tonight; I couldn’t envision any solid escape plan and he was much bigger than I was. He was in control and I would just have to pray for a tiny moment of clarity, that sliver of immediacy that would give me the upper hand long enough to get away. The car stopped after awhile and I could hear him cough as he got out of the car. His footsteps headed away from the car across some gravel and then faded out of earshot. I figured it for another trick until I heard him coming back in slow measured steps across the gravel again.

The trunk opened. He stared at me as he exhaled on his cigarette and he nodded for me to get out of the trunk. It didn’t take long for my eyes to adjust as the moon was high in the sky, but he didn’t give me a chance as he pressed something into the small of my back, forcing me to move. I walked until we came to a ravine filled with water. Cement steps leading down had been washed out forever ago and it was a rocky, almost vertical trek. A canoe rested on the bank below. “You want me to climb down there?” I asked, hearing my voice crack in fear.

“Nope,” he said evenly. I felt myself falling and tumbling, hitting rocks and dirt while my hands reached out for anything to slow my fall. Head over body over head over body, until I reached the muddy part of the shore and stared straight up. I heard him cough again and turned my head enough to see him. As I blacked out, he threw a rope ladder down, attached to one of the trees, and began a slow descent.

 “Soon the water will come and claim what is mine. I must leave it behind and climb to a new place.”

 The half-moon shone down across the uncovered parts of the swamp as frogs croaked their dedication dirges. The canoe sliced silently through the moss hiding the dangers below the surface and he paddled with a steady rhythm, listening for anything. Dip, whoosh, thrust, drip; the four note oar medley for this trip settled him and he paddled his way into a grove of low hanging branches for a smoke. He ducked his head and felt the leaves tickle the nape of his neck as he reversed the canoe and paddled in backwards. A soft thud told him the boat wouldn’t move much as he decided where to dump the body.

He left her in the boat and fumbled his way onto shore, feeling his boots press deep into the firma. Water drowned his toes as he walked and found himself staring at a small lagoon-like area away from the main river thoroughfare. He paced the entire circumference, searching for a long tree limb to gauge the depth of the water and found a rotted ten foot length. It slid into the murk quickly and damn near soaked the entire length. Satisfied, he tossed it in and headed back to the boat.

He heard a commotion, then a splash. He sprinted as fast as he could back to his makeshift dock and found her body absent. Large streaks of blood ran down both the inside and the outside of the now wobbly boat, rocking from side to side. His eyes scanned the black water and found no movement other than the ripples from the boat. No noise from the underbrush, so he figured an alligator must have gotten to her; smelled the blood on the boat and crept up quiet. Either way, she would never make it out of the swamp in one piece, much less alive.

He got back into the boat and pushed off with his oar, stroking slowly. Dip, whoosh, thrust, drip. Another two hours and he would be home.


1 comment:

  1. i used a similar prompt to complete a comic book script called 'mixtape'. picked 13 or 14 random songs from my collection and built a narrative around them, using only lyrics available as description/dialog. i was surprised by how much fun it was.
    one of my current projects is a novel adaptation of my bloody valentine's 'loveless'. i had hoped to have it finished before the end of this year (as this is the 20-year anniversary of its release), but that didn't work out so hot.